When I tell you that I never prepared and planned harder for my law school application than anything else in my life I am not joking. I was serious about getting admitted and knew I needed as much preparation and help as possible. The biggest obstacle for me was my personal statement. I knew I had a lot of convincing to do as my LSAT score was very average. So I did things I never, ever did with my writing (that in retrospect should have been a habit lol). I had multiple friends give edits and suggestions. I went to the writing center–hand to god, I had never stepped foot in the writing center before, but by early Fall 06 you sure did see me making appointments with writing tutors because I knew this had to be as perfect as possible. I edited like there was no tomorrow. It may seem like a lot, but take advantage of the resources you have around you. Push yourself to be just a little bit better. With that in mind, I wanted to share some writing tips to make your personal statement strong and effective.
One. Outline. The best way to organize your answer to the prompt is to outline your answer. When I was in undergrad, I didn’t outline anything because school was easy. But when I started working on my personal statements I found myself spiraling because the prompts are kind of vague and open ended. Then the nerves got the best of me and I’d end up writing too much, without really saying anything. Instead, outline your answer beforehand to focus on your main points and help you avoid tangents.
Two. Sell yourself. Most importantly, remember that you’re a catch! Many times people use their statements to explain away some “bad” part of their application–a low GPA, for example. Obviously you should use your best strategy, and if you think you need to do that–go for it. But really your goal is to show admissions that they should want you because of all your great qualities, not despite your one flaw. Focus on your strengths, your accomplishments, and goals.
Three. Watch your tone. Confession time–I really struggled with passive voice in my writing for years. It wasn’t until my 2L writing instructor kept calling me out on it (to my annoyance) that I made it a point to switch. I struggled with passive voice because that’s how I naturally wrote (and I still default to that). Passive voice sounded more authentic to me, less stilted, and I could finish my assignments quicker if I wrote that way. But active voice is stronger, it’s purposeful, and emphasizes points better. For better or worse, it’s a higher level of writing. And admissions counselors who read your statements can see the difference. Use active voice. If that’s not how you write, you may struggle, but it’s a worthwhile struggle for a statement that is so important.
Four. Seek edits. Because only my professors ever saw my essays, I never sought out critiques of my writing. So the first time I had a friend review my personal statement and give me really great feedback–it kind of stung. It stung because I thought I was a good writer! My grades proved it! Except she came back with such great edits that I quickly realized the voice in my head telling me that my first draft was perfect was a liar. It hurts to be edited. To write personal information, lay out your life goals and plans, and then turn around to have friends or strangers slash through it with a red pen. But get over that pride and apprehension as soon as you can. Seek out editors that will be honest and use their objectivity to make your statement even stronger.
Ultimately, your statement is as important as your LSAT score and GPA. It’s the first impression you give to the admission committees and your opening statement as to why you will be the right addition to their school. Plan and prepare to make them want you.